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Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 6

Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 6 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone. Read Part 5 here.

One Movement. Three Days.

You heard it, folks: one movement in three days of training. I haven’t gotten to tell you much about the actual training. It is very different than how we learn things in the west. We want to learn as much as possible — quantity over quality. We want to show everyone how many different things we know so we can be the best. Well, coming to practice for a month, I thought I would have a lot to bring back. I haven’t learned as much as I thought I would — at least movement wise — but I have learned one of the biggest lessons which will help me get through life more calmly.

Training at the school is just hard work, it can be joyful, peaceful, and fun but at the end of the day it is hard work. It never ends, especially for the kids who live here year round. They practice forms over and over and over and there is always improvement to be made. It is quite amazing being able to practice with these kids. They are the kids that you see on youtube videos that perform all the amazing Gung Fu feats. They do everything from acrobatics, pain tolerance training, and insane flexibility. During training, they are focused and intense but as soon as that whistle blows they are back to being kids. The training is really good for them it seems; they are mature, healthy, and happy. This is their family and it is a close connected family that really cares about each other. So I digress a little but these are the people that have made this experience feel like I am part of that family. It has allowed me to laugh through the tough times and be grateful at times that I am only here for a month.

I have been learning Bagua, which is a martial art that is based on circles and spirals. When done by a master, I think it is the most beautiful thing. It’s like a dance — a deadly one. The art is designed to be able to fight eight opponents at once. So the practitioner learns to dance around his opponents using bones breaks, throws, punches, kicks, and bumps in order to quickly dispatch his or her opponents. The very basic training is walking the circle and learning the eight different palms. This circle walking strengthens the practitioner’s footwork but also makes it agile. The eight palms and their changes look beautiful, but deadly, martial technique is hidden within each movement. After taking several weeks to learn that I am now learning the basics. Each movement is a combination of several martial techniques and I am not sure how many there are in total. I have learned one so far. It has taken some time. Every day we have about three hours of form practice. I have been practicing this one short and simple movement for three days. It is short and looks simple. The principles, which the movements of Bagua are based on, are the hardest to learn. You must move with power, yet be completely relaxed. You must move the body as one beginning with hips turning. You must move fluidly which means relaxed joints and muscles. To be relaxed you must find joy. Finally, you must move your gaze first then your body follows. It is a lot to keep track of. Especially, in the west we are not soft, we are hard, we walk like robots, sit down all day, we are happy because of results, not process, and our hips don’t move.

The first day I am excited about learning a new movement and enjoying the process. The second day I am frustrated with myself for not moving on to learn the next movement. I am doing everything I can to learn this damn movement. Attacking it from every angle. Trying to understand. I am getting frustrated. I am getting down on myself. Of course, I can’t do this. Then the ego floods in and starts its work: being completely self-deprecating. So I reach out to the people who I confide in and get some support because we can’t make this journey alone. The best piece of advice I got was: “Put down your mind.” Put down my mind. Let things be how they are and find joy in the calmness. I came to the third day with a smile and ready to learn something instead of trying to conquer something. I practiced the movement slowly simply and actually enjoyed my time. My coach Chong Qin kept coming over every 15 or 20 minutes to give me pointers. I had the principles, I was getting the movement, I was beginning to understand. The movement isn’t perfect and she moved me to the next movement but I learned a big lesson.

All things that are excellent take time in life. There is no failure; only quitting on your dreams is a failure. Every mistake and blunder is part of the process to fulfill a dream. The fulfillment of the dream isn’t the best part; it is in the working towards it. The more we can find joy in the process the more we can find joy in life. After all, life is the process of death. So the things that bother us do not matter as much as we think and the more we expect from ourselves the more we set ourselves up for frustration. Coming to life with newness with a childlike curiosity to learn is the path to joy. Putting down the mind when it gets out of control takes work but it is the key to the kingdom of peace. Things are how they are and acceptance is love.

Learning Gung Fu is a microcosm for life and contemplation can bring the greatest realizations. So I came to learn Gung Fu and I came to get more peace of mind. I am learning a little Gung Fu and getting a lot of peace of mind. I think about going home and I know I will just have to walk the circle. Walk the Bagua circle that represents life and use the palm changes at the completion of each circle as a way transforming. Every obstacle, palm change, walk, walk, walk, obstacle, palm change, transform, walk, walk, walk, obstacle, palm change, and transform.

Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 5

Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 5 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone. Read Part 4 here.

Wudang’s Delicious Food

I originally thought to do a post about one night I went out in Wudang but I have had so much food in town since that thought. So I will tell you all about the different foods that are served in Wudang. I can’t tell you restaurant names or where they can be found. That’s for your own journey.

My favorite restaurant in Wudang is what we call “The Fish Place.” This little beauty is a hole in the wall and doesn’t look much like a restaurant. It has about 6 short tables with center burners, surrounded by cute little stools. Right next to this room, completely open to the street, is a vat of live fish and scale. The first night I went was with a few of the western students: Roderigo (El Salvador), Vincent (France), and Nathan (America). It was our first night out after a few days, so we had a little celebration. We went to a corner store that sold beer, booze, snacks, and cigarettes. We bought a small bottle of bi jiu (rice liquor), which I would find out later tasted like gasoline.

As we came upon the restaurant, Roderigo, who had been there before, said: “Go on — someone pick a fish.” Frenchie (Vincent) stepped up and grabbed a large, live fish out of the vat of swirling fish. The Chinese man smiled, probably because it was huge, grabbed the fish, and hit its head on the sidewalk. It did not die so he took a wood club and slapped its head one time. It stopped moving. He weighed it and told us the price. We agreed and sat down. Roderigo ordered for us. One by one, dishes were served: dumplings, eggplant and lamb skewers, cucumber and parsley salad, fried sweet corn kernels, squid skewers, noodles, and then the fish came out. It was in a metal container filled with herbs and spices and placed in the center of the table. He turned the burner on to keep it warm for us. We stuffed our faces after a hard week of training. I think the fish was the best, then the squid, which was also quite spicy. Everything was delicious… except the bi jiu which I only drank a few sips. But I rather enjoyed the beer, which was very low alcohol content. Overall this was a great experience and the price was only 265 yuan, which is like 40 US dollars. A meal like that in the United States would have been between $150.00 and $200.00. Great food, fresh food, and cheap food!

The same group of people plus Zhou, one of the Chinese Students at the school, went to a place I would call “Chinese BBQ.” It was nice to have Zhou because he had been there before and spoke much much better Chinese than I. Zhou is 21 years old and has been studying Tai Ji for four years. He is extremely talented, but more importantly, he is welcoming and kind. I found that many people in China treated everyone like family. I am always getting invited to people’s homes just after a short meeting, very different from the west. Anyway, we entered the restaurant and found a man behind a bar selling bottles of bi jiu (YUCK) and several glass tables with lazy susans in the center. This is found at many places in China where you share dishes. Zhou ordered for us. We had every type of meat skewer: pork, beef, chicken, and something else that was kind of chewy…? Also, we ate the best sweet and sour chicken, nothing like anything served in the United States. The taste was amazing and we used what seemed like large dinner pancakes to soak up the sauce. It was quite the meal and another great night out in Wudang town.

I usually went to town on our day off from training: Monday. But there were a few times we would go into town during the week. Like the time when I was training and I realized I had burned a hole through my shoe, sock, and right to my big toe. I tried to patch it with some tape and some leaves but within 30 minutes it was all falling apart. Only two weeks of training and it was time for new shoes. So on midday break, I went with Nathan, a fellow student, to town and we found a little store and that had wonton soup, again nothing like anything found in the States. It was full of about 20-30 wontons and was a simple way to fill the belly. Then I got a new pair of shoes. Wontons and shoes. Shoes and wontons. I think I have said enough about Wudang eats. Just come try for yourself.

Listen up for real Wudang training—one movement takes three days. Thanks for reading, see you soon! HI-YAH!

Journey To Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 4

Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 3 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone. Read Part 3 here.

Saturday morning, I woke up with an entire day of training until we headed off to Xi’an. Vincent, my traveling partner hailing from France, had come to the school for one month to learn Tai chi. He is on a four-month journey through East Asia.

The heat rose with the sun and we all poured sweat during training. The trip to Xi’an was the carrot to pull me through a hard day’s training. It got to 102 degrees and we didn’t even need training to sweat — just being alive was enough.

Eight hours and a cold shower later, we were off to get a bus to Wudang. When we arrived, we found a familiar hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The jovial owner greeted us. He was happy to see us again, I hoped. “Yi Ge Jiao Zi, Yi Ge Chow Mian, and uhhh, Yi Ge,” I said as I pointed at the pot of stewing chicken thighs. I had asked for dumplings, noodles, and one piece of chicken. We filled our bellies with noodles, dumplings, and chicken for our up coming journey. That night we would wait until 11 pm to catch a taxi to Shiyan and from there we would take a 7-hour train ride to Xi’an. Vincent and I headed down to the river and were surprised by a beautiful sun setting in the distance. Thank God that thing was finally going down.

The walkway and river, or what was left of it, was filled with people. Kids playing in the water, older folks had chairs set up chatting and laughing as they fanned themselves with real Chinese fans! Some farmers were still out trying to sell a few more watermelons before day’s end and some men sucked down cigarettes while playing a Chinese board game similar to chess. It was nice to see people out and about enjoying life. All coming together at the end of the day, it felt very homey. Community. The community was strong in Wudang and you could just feel it in the spirit of the people. I think it is something we miss in the west. We are so scared of each other, so much fear, and we are forced to be independent as a sign of strength. I think it leaves us with a lot of problems with depression and anxiety. But hey, I ain’t no psychologist!

Getting a taxi was always somewhat of a game and you had to bargain. The driver would always give us a really expensive price at first, but we were ferocious. We wanted the price they gave to Chinese people. So we approached the first taxi in a line of three and told him where we wanted to go. He put 235 on his phone calculator. We laughed and told him sixty. He scoffed and punched in 180 and at that point, we just walked to the next taxi. We told him the second driver where we wanted to go and he started with 160 on his phone calculator. Better but not good enough. We told him sixty and his eyes almost popped out of his head. He started saying something in Chinese and then the first taxi driver approached. They started talking amongst each other and Vincent and I started laughing. “Come on, come on!” We said. The two drivers started laughing at us. The second driver pointed to the moon and said something; I heard the word “wanshang” which means nighttime. Okay, so it was a higher price because it was nighttime. Understandable but we weren’t going to stop. The second driver punched in 140 on his phone calculator. We considered it and then put 80 in on his phone. He shook his head in defeat. Just then, a third driver walked up asking “Na Li Na Li?” (Where, where?) I told him Shiyan Train Station and said “Yi Bai.” (100). He said, “Okay, okay!” The second driver turned to us frustrated, as we were about to walk away, revealed his phone calculator to us in crumbling defeat: 80. We hopped in his cab and got our fair ride to Shiyan. I had spoken with Tang earlier that day and he said the price should be around 80-100. Bargaining can be tense but it is worth it.

We pushed through the masses of people at the old, poorly-lit train station in Shiyan and luckily found two seats. There we waited for about an hour for our train to begin boarding. At this point, I was completely exhausted and just wanted a bed to sleep in. But we would not get a bed. We had booked our train late so we did not have the luxury of even a hard sleeper, we were bound for hard seats. A seven-hour train ride in hard seats. The station stunk of cigarette smoke despite the numerous no smoking signs and loads of talking people. It was not a pleasant place to be and I am not a princess — well, not always. Our train eventually boarded and we were headed for Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors, the Muslim quarter, and the famous Xi’an City Wall.

After arriving in Xi’an we walked over to our hostel and passed out for several hours because we got virtually no sleep on the train. Vincent contacted two fellow students who happened to be in Xi’an that weekend, so it was a weekend with the French in China. The first adventure we enjoyed was the Xi’an City Wall. It was built by the first Emperor of China and remains completely intact today. It wraps around the core of the city and is surrounded by tall buildings on the outside. To walk the entire wall would take few hours as it is about 14 kilometers so we only walked one corner, which took about an hour. It was really a historical experience.

I could imagine soldiers patrolling the wall throughout the day and sentries looking out into the darkness at night. I imagined what it would be like to be a soldier in an advancing army and being a citizen protected by the behemoth. As we walked along, many bricks had Chinese characters etched into them. I wondered if it was century old soldiers carving the names of their lovers into the brick. After our epic walk through time on one of China’s great walls, we headed for the Muslim Quarter.

The city of Xi’an was the beginning of the Silk Road roughly 1,000 years ago. Many overseas merchants came, including people from Arabic countries — some settled in this area. It became known as the Muslim Quarter, now with tens of thousands of practicing Muslims and about 10 Mosques including the Great Mosque, which we were able to visit. The Great Mosque was the oldest and largest built in the area. It was a peaceful place with a large courtyard where you could hear prayers in the distant. Much of the stone architecture has not been restored which left it looking old and beautiful, but still intact.

The Muslim quarter was a great place to cruise through in the evening. I really felt like I was in China. The streets are filled with food vendors selling freshly baked bread, grilled kebabs, octopus legs on skewers, roasted nuts, small restaurants selling noodles, fruit stands packed with fresh fruits and the occasional convenience store. People swarmed through the streets as cars tried to push through the masses. I kept my eyes peeled over my shoulders to watch out for incoming motorbikes and scooters. But I didn’t worry; the incessant beeping always warned of their approach. We walked through the tightly packed streets trying to take it all in through our eyes and our cameras.
We came upon a covered area with winding alleyways that housed the curiosity shops and tourist gift shops! We bought several little bracelets, fans, silks (fake?), and coins to take home as souvenirs. We made out pretty well with our superior bargaining skills.

The last thing we saw before leaving Xi’an was the Terracotta Warriors. This site is actually the first emperor of China Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. He had his entire army replicated out of stone to guard his burial mound. Each soldier’s face is carved differently and come complete with weapons, horses, and carriages. It was truly fantastic because of the amazing human ingenuity and insanity dedicated to something so massive. Warehouses have been built over the excavation sites themselves so people can view the sites while in air conditioning. You can’t get really close to them but they have a few soldiers in glass cases for closer inspection. This is a really touristy place to go to but it is the thing that drew us to Xi’an in the first place.
The trip to Xi’an was a wonderful getaway from our intense Gung Fu training. We got off the bus at our stop in Wudang and trudged up the hill back to school. As we entered the grounds we were met with a warm welcome of smiles and waves from the other students and coaches—we were home. Even though the next week of training would be just as hard as the previous, I was happy to be home at Wudang Dragongate Gung Fu School.

Look out for my next delicious post on some great local eats in Wudang. HI-YAH!!

Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 3

Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 3 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone. Read Part 2 here.

Watermelon Day

Tang bought a watermelon today. Watermelon is special. Watermelon brings people together.

Today was a normal day at Wudang Dragon Gate Kung Fu School. I woke up at 6:00 a.m. to the most irritating whistle which indicated food. I stumbled out of bed and down to the cafeteria. Wudang special breakfast — rice. Rice everyday, rice three times a day, always rice. Rice, rice, rice. I went back and laid in bed after eating the delicious grain that would give me energy for my training soon to come. Within an hour, another whistle blew. Time to go train.

We trained for a few hours with a little break in between. Being early morning, it had not started to get hot. Our coach called us in. “Wow, off early today,” I thought. We lined up like little gung fu soldiers and our coach shouted a few things in Chinese, then pointed at the mountain behind him. He turned to point at me and a few other students. “Uh…oh…”

We followed our coach — having collected shovels and old rice bags — through the school, out the back, and up the mountain. Some of us were designated diggers and some were carriers. I was a carrier. As the bags were filled with the dark soil, the other carriers and I strained to put the bags on our shoulders. We walked up five flights of stairs to the rooftop to find a dozen long, deep planters. These wooden planters were huge and we had to fill them. One by one, rice bag by rice bag, we filled the planters with dirt. Each trip felt like it would be my last but I continued on, trying various different ways of holding the bags to use different muscle groups.

An hour later, Vincent, the student from France, said “Shooo Sheee… coach said it, I don’t know what it means?”

“Yes!” I cried out. “It means rest, man. It means rest.”

I returned to my room. Tang showered and then I showered. I got out of the shower and put shorts on my still wet body. Tang shouted from the bedroom, “Watermelon!” I came out of the bathroom to find Tang cutting through an enormous watermelon with a tiny knife. He turned and smiled, “We share, for us.” Tang had pretty decent English and my mandarin was pretty bad. We got along well, we always laughed as we would try to explain complex topics in each others language. Google translate was certainly helpful. He handed me half of the watermelon and a spoon. “I haven’t used a spoon in two weeks,” I thought. We sat there and devoured cold watermelon while the fan blew the hot summer air on us. We laughed as we munched away. We just laughed and ate.

We laughed because we had trained together. We were brothers, in a way. We trained, ate, and slept together. But it was the training that brought us close, all of the school, not just Tang and I. We were bound as brothers and sisters. We understood the tightness and stiffness we felt in our legs every morning and night. We understood the feeling of total exhaustion and not being able to move. We understood the joy of finally getting that movement right. We understood the peace that each other felt in certain moments while practicing. Gung fu is for family. That is why we laugh eating watermelon and that is why watermelon is special.

This reminds me of another day where watermelon came into play. We were all training hard at our different arts. Sweat pouring in hot 98 degree Wudang heat. A large farm truck pulled up through the stone gates. It was piled high with watermelons. A man got out of the truck and chatted with the woman that ran the kitchen, Master Wang’s sister. She shouted something in Chinese across the yard and Chong Qin repeated it in English for us: “Get watermelon if you want.” The western students and I ran over to the truck picking through the various watermelons. Tang picked out three and I picked out three as well. I paid for them all. Twenty yuan! Which is about three dollars American. Six massive watermelons for only three dollars! These would sustain us through the next week of practice in between sessions.

Keep your eyes and nose peeled for my next post about the delicious food found in Wudang town. Thanks for reading! HI-YAH!

Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 2

Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 2 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone. Read Part 1 here.

Eat. Train. Sleep. Sweat.

So I am half asleep, in a daze, in the back of a taxi headed up the mountain to my final destination — Wudang Dragon Gate Kung Fu School. We are driving through rural China from Shiyan to Wudang Shan. The road is littered with strange looking buildings and half-finished sidewalks. It seemed to me to be a country in the midst of development.

We ascended up a hill and drove under a large stone gate. The car stopped and a guy waiting in front of the school hopped up and opened the taxi door. He was a very young and vibrant, and he would be one of my coaches at the school: Peng Tao. I grabbed my bags and he brought me up to my room. Another man who would be my roommate greeted me: Tang. He spoke a little English just like I spoke a little Chinese.

After brushing my teeth and showering Tang and I had a short conversation. Introducing each other and trying to speak each other’s language; we laughed and smiled before turning the lights off to go to sleep. The bed was a hard box spring with a thin but cushy mat, a pillow, and blanket. It was not something I would call comfortable but I already felt like at home. I was in a foreign country, with a foreign person, in a strange building and it was the safest I had felt since I left. I was excited for the next day waking up in the mountains of Wudang. I drifted off to sleep.

HUUUUU-PTUUH. Someone spit outside, then young children yelling in Chinese, the crow of a rooster, and no sun.

It was 5 a.m. “Holy crap I am in China!” I thought. I laid in bed tired, sore from the hard bed and smiling. “This is my life for the next month.” I smiled harder. I soon fell back asleep until I was woken by the sound of Tang preparing for training and the yellow sun pouring in through the barred window. After getting up I put my clothes in the large cabinet, brushed my teeth, ate a bun injected with some strange cream from last nights flight and a young woman burst through the door. “You come with me,” she said. This was Chong Qin who would be my main coach for learning Bagua. She brought me down to Master Wang’s office where we completed registration and received my uniform. Within the hour I was out in the yard waiting anxiously for my first training session. After lining up, different students were sent to the yard to practice their arts: tai chi, gung fu, sword, and staff.


I was left standing with Chong Qin. She asked, “What you want learn?”

“Bagua,” I replied. I began walking my first circle. Bagua-Zhang is one of the oldest martial arts form based on Daoist circle walking practices. I was officially learning martial arts in China!

A week passed quickly and being in China began to feel normal. Even the six hours of training a day were feeling regular. I was sore in places I didn’t even know existed and we kept training anyway. We train for about 6 hours each day in various segments.

Basic schedule looks like this:

6:00 a.m.: Breakfast
7:30 a.m.: Running, stretching, kicks, stance training
8:30 a.m.: Break
9:00 a.m.: Forms (I practice Bagua)
10:30 a.m.: Break
12:00 p.m.: Lunch
After lunch we all take a big sleep, it is very hot in July.
3:30 p.m.: Tendon/Ligament stretching followed by Tai Chi or Qi Gong
4:30 p.m.: Break
5:00 p.m.: Forms (I practice Bagua)
6:30 p.m.: Break
7:30 p.m.: Dinner

There are optional training periods that alternate each day 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. or 8 p.m to 9 p.m.

So how was all this training sustained? Food. Sleep. Food. Sleep. Laughter. Three times a day, we eat rice and some combination of different vegetables with tofu or, if we were lucky, bits of meat. For rice and vegetables the food was absolutely delicious and since training was so hard we ran when we heard that whistle. The whistle itself was a representation of yin and yang: two opposites. One whistle blow meant training where we would drain our bodies and two whistle blows meant food where we would recharge our bodies. After a big lunch, we all tromp back to our rooms and just lay there until we fall asleep. We have a long midday break because it is the hottest part of the day, upwards of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. We slept until that whistle blew again.

Keep your eyes peeled for my next post! A sore body and the rejuvenating power of Wudang watermelon. HI-YAH!

A spontaneous trip to Portland, Maine

Just get up and go.

I’m a little hazy on the details because it all happened so fast. I think it went something like this:

“Let’s go on a road trip.”


“How about Portland, Maine?”


Within minutes, my wife Elly had a smile on her face. “I just booked a motel,” she said.

Suddenly a typical lazy Sunday afternoon turned into a frantic scramble to pack clothes and supplies. We hadn’t thought out how long we were going to be gone, we didn’t have much money on hand, and we didn’t even know why we were going, but in a brief and manic moment we had both made up our minds.

In a short time, we were packed and ready to go. We put the leash on our pup and headed out the door.

Anyone can go on a vacation. The intent of this story isn’t to simply highlight the benefits of going on vacation or even to explain the exciting things to do in the City of Portland. Instead, I want to convey what was going through my head, my wife’s head, and to express to anyone out there that might be like me (mid-20s and still a little lost in the world; the kind of person who has never really had a chance to do something wild): sometimes you just have to break some rules and be spontaneous.

The drive was about five hours long and I didn’t mind any of it. Driving through the rugged Vermont mountains and seeing the quaint little farms and communities that dotted the landscape was so much better than sitting in the office as I had been just an hour or so earlier. The thing is, I had never really done traveling the “right” way, and by that I mean the way that I wanted to do it — on my terms. I always wanted to just go to a place (somewhere, it didn’t matter where) and just explore. I don’t care about the on-rails tours, the theme parks, you know, the typical tourist things. I just wanted to be able to pick myself up and go to a new place and explore.


So several hours later with an almost empty tank of gas, we found ourselves pulling off the highway and into Portland. We filled the car up in a questionable part of town and, exhausted, checked into the motel, ordered a pizza, gorged ourselves on said pizza, and fell asleep. It really hadn’t set in yet that just a few hours ago we had no inclination that we would be here. “We’re in Portland, Maine! How weird,” Elly said to me as we drifted off. It was really truly strange. I hadn’t done anything like this before.

For those of you out there that have had the luck to make travel a major part of your life, this might all seem silly. But it really was amazing what we had done. We had transformed an ordinary day into something extraordinary.


The following morning we woke up around 7 a.m., took a shower, packed our things, and headed out with the pup.

Pretty much all the research we had done on Portland was done during the car ride in between the spotty coverage allotted by the rural mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire.

“Oh, there’s a downtown district with old cobblestone roads!”

“Nevermind, I don’t have any data.”

Between pit stops, I scribbled down the names of restaurants and other things to do in Portland. We used bringfido.com to see what we could actually do with our dog coming along for the ride. I was surprised to see a lot of interesting shops downtown that were pet-friendly.

We parked ourselves on a street in Old Port in downtown Portland, paid the parking meter and stepped out to begin our adventure. It was a small, quaint little street with cobblestone roads and was lined with very hip storefronts.

“This is the start of our adventure,” I thought. And while absorbed in the moment, I barely noticed our dog pooping the largest poop I had ever seen on the sidewalk. To make matters worse, a large group of people was making their way towards us! Suddenly our anxiety skyrocketed as we quickly tried to clean up the mess before they arrived.

“Hurry they’re coming!”

Success! With not a moment to spare we had cleaned the sidewal- “oh wait they crossed the street already.”

With that minor hiccup out of the way, it was time to begin our adventure.


With the car in the center of downtown, we surveyed the sites of Portland for the next few hours. This was exactly the way I always wanted to travel: no itinerary, just true exploration with the girl of my dreams and our dog. Darting in and out of alleyways, going to the wharf, saying hi to all the strangers that wanted to get a closer look at our pup. It felt like we had tossed away all of the rules. So what if we were supposed to be in the office working? So what if we had a dog with us? So what if it was a Monday? None of that mattered. We weren’t going to let artificial constraints on our own happiness get in our way today.


When the parking meter was set to expire, we headed back. Elly had never seen the Atlantic so we had made it a goal to go to the ocean. We looked for directions to the nearest beach, said our goodbyes to downtown and drove off.

We stopped at “Eastern Promenade” at the northern tip of the city. We parked at the top of a tall hill near the ocean.

It was surreal.

I can’t say that this was my first encounter seeing the ocean. But this was more than just simply seeing the ocean. I was seeing the ocean in a particular time in my life that was perfect. I was in a place in the world with the person I wanted to be with the most. It took me by surprise. Seeing the ocean with her really captivated me. We made our way down the hillside, winding down the pleasant hill on a pathway towards the beach.

I’d like to take a second and share what my wife thought when we crested the bottom of the hill and made our way to the water:

“We saw a rocky part of the beach that was completely vacant (and ahead of the ‘NO DOGS ALLOWED’ sign) — it was perfect. Immediately, I knew I wanted to take my shoes off and dip my toes in. So we did. The pup even got his feet wet, and soon he was exploring the salty waters just like we were. I felt like a kid again. I followed a few rocks out to this peninsula-like part of the beach, being careful to not step on snails and seaweed. It was the first time I really saw a complete view of water. And it made me feel so small. It just kept going, and going, and going. It really put things into perspective for me, and honestly, I think it changed my life. I want to move there now.”

I couldn’t agree with her more. Here we were, both totally immersed by the moment unfolding before us. We were virtually alone. I waded in the little artificial lagoon and tossed stones about and breathed the sea air. I was totally engulfed in the present moment. We both traded moments sitting out at the far end of the rocks alone, taking in the scenery. Throughout the day we had been toying with the idea of staying for another night. We didn’t have enough money for another night at the hotel, but we were committed to the possibility of sleeping in our car.

But as we got ready to leave, we both realized we were totally satisfied with our experience. After collecting a few keepsakes, we made our way back to the car to begin the journey home.

It was a quick, spontaneous trip, but it was everything we wanted.


Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 1

Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 1 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone.

I got out of the cushy hotel bed filled with anxiety for my first international flight alone. China was my destination.

As we ate an overpriced breakfast buffet that my stomach struggled to digest, my mother reassured me the flight would be fine. She was reassuring herself as well. I knew everything would work out fine, but I was traveling into the unknown. It’s kind of like jumping off a cliff into water. You see everyone jump and emerge from the water safely but everything in your body tells you: “DON’T JUMP!” which is logical because you might die. You jump anyway and it is such a thrill.

So I jumped.


I was waving goodbye, getting on the shuttle to the airport wishing I had not thrown away my coffee. I had my two bags, a nervous stomach, an unsure mind, and a trusting heart — everything would be okay. But this was not the start of my journey to Wudang Mountain — the center of Taoist Kung Fu.

The journey all started when I was living in Sedona, Arizona in 2009. I met a Gung Fu instructor through a friend and agreed to take lessons. The training began where all things begin: in the earth. All of my training was done outside, on the ground, in the water, and in all weather conditions. I was taught to condition the body physically, I learned deep meditative Qi-Gong, and I learned deadly Gung Fu techniques. The training was serious. It expanded me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It gave me a new view on the world and I wanted to learn more. After leaving Sedona, I began researching different schools in China to study martial arts. Five years after navigating, dodging, and leaping over financial barriers, family barriers, and work barriers, I booked the trip. Sometimes things don’t come easy in life but if you keep your eye on the prize and keep attempting, you will get where you’re going.

Fast-forward several years.

I wish I could have fast-forwarded the flight! It wasn’t much to talk about. It took 14 hours to fly from Newark, New Jersey to Beijing. On most flights, I stare at the little airplane dotting across the screen making its way from origin to destination, but this time I could barely look at it. I mean, come on, I was flying over the North-Freaking-Pole! I watched several movies, made seventeen trips to the bathroom, and like I said, it was generally uneventful. I didn’t get to be on one of those wonderful United flights where they drag a passenger off the plane kicking and screaming. It was also quite amazing that I was traveling to China in 14 hours… on the other side of the planet! I think we take flying for granted.

After touching down safely in Beijing and exiting the aircraft, I chatted with two girls from the flight. They were around my age and traveling from Montreal on their way to Mongolia. It was a nice reassurance that I was surrounded by people — just people. Not dinosaurs, or aliens, or flying purple people eaters. Sure, they spoke a different language, ate strange foods, and looked completely different, but they were people. In my experience, people are generally good and I would be able to find my way and ask for help when needed… as long as I had Google Translate. Chatting with the girls also made me think: “People travel internationally every day, so I can do this.”

I made my way to the gate for my connecting flight to Wudang. It would be another 6 hours before that flight departed, so I had some time and I had some errands to run. (Yes, errands in an airport.) I had to find an ATM to take out money and then my big test: ordering food. I was in China and I had to use the little Chinese I knew to eat. Eating is important unless you are some hippie breatharian. (Well, then good for you.) I lugged my large backpacking backpack around the airport searching for an ATM. I think this took me about two hours to find the ATM. Including a break where I went into a panic and thought my entire trip was doomed because I couldn’t get Chinese Yuan (money).

Eventually, I found the ATM. It was like coming upon an oasis in the desert. I sipped the sweet cool waters as the machine spat out 1000 Yuan. My first time getting international money! I trekked back to the store I had spotted early that sold food — I passed by it. I was so nervous about going to ask for food, I just walked right by. I trudged around again and thought, “well maybe I will just find another place.” I walked around the airport for another hour in a silent, nervous panic. This was not the time for my social anxiety issues to come into play. I needed to eat. I thought about the impact that my social worries had on my everyday life. I was always scared to make a fool of myself or to make some type of mistake. I didn’t want people to think I was an idiot. I had to be perfect.

I came around the corner and walked into a café, which was some strange Chinese simulation of an American Café. This was it — I had to battle this head on. I could not be fearful of what other people thought. Ultimately, I knew people were going to have judgments and I knew they didn’t matter. I walked up to the counter and waited for the girl to come back. “Ni Hao!” I said awkwardly. She murmured something similar.

“Wo Yao… (I want…)” I said pointing to a sad looking chicken sandwich. She said “Okay” in English… She spoke English. Life happens like that sometimes just to mess with you. After eating the sad sandwich, I felt pretty happy.

My next flight landed in Shiyan at Wudangshan airport. After the long day, I was exhausted and I hoped the taxi arranged for me would be waiting. When I exited the airport, there was a woman holding a sign with my full name on it “DYLANMARTINSEN.” It was another oasis in the unknown; I felt relief. I followed her to the car and she spoke some words in Chinese. I kind of just laughed it off. I was in no mood to try to understand what she was saying or try to find the right words to spit out of the abyss that my mind had become. I was shot. I was tired.

And I still had an hour drive to get to Wu Dang Dragon Gate Kung Fu School.

Keep your eyes peeled for my arrival at the school and getting used to my new routine. Rice, three times a day and 6 hours of intense martial arts training. HI-YAH!

Read Part 2 here.